Thanks(?) to social media, it’s very easy for us to learn, in a personal context, all about bad things happening far away from us. And the impressions left by people grieving and pointing fingers at each other leaves a toll.
And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts. –T.S. Eliot, “The Perfect Critic” (1921)
Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker tells The Washington Post that, contrary to what our subjective perceptions tell us, objectively speaking, things in America and the world are getting better.
As I sit here with my mug among the flames (“This is fine“), I sure don’t feel like things are getting better. But that’s why the article caught my eye.
If you arrived in a new city and saw that it was raining, would you conclude, “The rain has gotten worse”? How could you tell, unless you knew how much it had rained before that day? Yet people read about a war or terrorist attack this morning and conclude that violence is increasing, which is just as illogical. In fact, rates of war have been roller-coastering downward since 1946, rates of American homicide have plunged since 1992, and rates of disease, starvation, extreme poverty, illiteracy and dictatorship, when they are measured by a constant yardstick, have all decreased — not to zero, but by a lot. […] The progress is not particularly American — indeed, the United States is an outlier among rich Western democracies, with a stagnation in happiness and higher rates of homicide, incarceration, abortion, sexually transmitted disease, child mortality, obesity, educational mediocrity and premature death. | The countries with the highest levels of well-being are in Western Europe and the [British] Commonwealth, and the countries with the most dramatic improvements in well-being are in the developing world, which are slashing their rates of poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. And while inequality is increasing in the United States, it’s decreasing in the world as a whole, because poor countries are getting richer faster than rich countries are getting richer. —A Harvard professor explains why the world is actually becoming a much better place